Lately my little girl has been testing the boundaries when eating her food. It is impressive to see her learning how to eat food with only three and a half teeth, how to drop it on the floor, carefully mash it into her high chair, and then excitedly push her hands back and forth on the tray until the rest of the food is on the floor. But I can’t lie. It can also be really, really annoying.
At times like these (right now it is every meal time) I have to summon all my positive thinking and memory of books I’ve read on childhood development to stop exasperation and impatience creeping in.
This is probably the first time I’ve found myself feeling frustrated about perfectly normal and healthy behaviour in my little girl. As a result it has got me thinking about the importance of being an objective parent rather than a subjective one.
The wonderful Tracy Hogg gave a great explanation of objective vs subjective parenting. In her book The Baby Whisperer Solves All your Problems, she wrote that objective parents are motivated by their child’s individual needs, while subjective parents are motivated by their own emotions. Consequently, subjective parents react to emotions from within themselves rather than detaching and responding to what is going on within the child. This makes it difficult for them to respond appropriately to their child’s needs.
The book gave an example of an eighteen month old having a tantrum in a shop because he wants a lollipop. The subjective parent immediately thinks of how embarrassing this is, and hopes that there won’t be a scene. When the child continues to have the tantrum, the parent gets angry and frustrated and takes the tantrum behaviour personally.
Ali from Running with Spatulas also discusses objective vs subjective parenting and gives great examples of the two types of parenting. She talks about subjective parents being too busy worrying about their own feelings while objective parents immediately address the situation at hand.
At times it can be hard not to let my feelings get in the way of appropriate action. Even if only for a fleeting moment, I sometimes feel embarrassed if my baby is having a miserable time at my mothers’ group catch up when all the other bubs are so happy. I encourage her to play on the mat when she really just wants to be held by me. Other times I have let her be held by another person knowing it is really going to upset my baby, but I feel embarrassed about being seen as an overprotective mum.
I hope I am making inroads to becoming an objective parent. Reading about child development and getting used to being a mum makes it easier to step outside of myself and focus on responding to my baby’s needs rather than my own emotions. Last week my baby was happily crawling around at a first birthday party and a friend of mine asked if she could pick my little one up and cuddle her. It was so nice of my friend to check with me first rather than others who swoop in and pick up my sensitive baby not realising they are going to potentially cause tears. I was pretty confident that this time my baby would be okay, so I said sure no problem. You can guess what happened next. My little one completely lost it. Distressed screaming, choking sobs, the works.
A few months ago I would have been dying of embarrassment, wishing my baby were more easing going and apologising profusely to my friend. This time I didn’t react to emotions within myself, and simply took my baby and focused on making her feel secure and happy again. I didn’t care that I looked like a helicopter parent. I have a sensitive baby and I accept that I must meet her needs, regardless of what social situation I find myself in.
Even so, I still have times where I need reminding of what it takes to be an objective parent. Here is a rundown of objective parenting from Tracy Hogg’s book:
To be an objective parent, you:
- accept your child’s temperament
- be conscious of what your child is going through at a particular developmental stage
- know your child’s weaknesses and strengths, allowing you to prepare for situations ahead of time
- base your reaction on the situation
- see your child as a separate being, not part of you
So next time my little one bangs her hands down on her highchair tray to see how much food will bounce off it onto the floor, I’ll save my exasperated sighs and instead respond in an appropriately objective way. Or at least, I’ll try.